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By Brian Hews
Hews Media Group-Community News has learned that certain members on Central Basin Municipal Water District’s (CB) Board of Directors are, for the sake of political retribution, blocking the implementation of large revenue generating recycled water projects for the cash-strapped water agency.
CB has a massive recycled water system that runs through parts of Los Angeles. It is fairly simple to connect a new customer to the recycled system’s pipes, almost as easy as a local plumber connecting a new sink in your house.
When Tony Perez was General Manager, he recognized the potential sales and hired Jonathan Tat to oversee the recycled water system and manage retail sales for CB.
Tat was the Operations and Engineering Manager, but he was a hybrid engineer; he “enjoyed selling water” to potential clients.
Perez and Tat painstakingly identified over 260 potential customers in CB’s area.
Both went to companies and conducted sales presentations, and all were ready to be hooked up to CB’s system.
Water-guzzling customers included Biola University, Whittier College, El Rancho Unified School District, L.A. County Sanitation, Aramark Uniform, Kaiser Aluminum, Cintas Uniforms, 7-Up Bottling, Union Ice, Presbyterian Hospital, Monterrey Park Golf Course, and Montebello Golf Course,
The list also included over 50 parks and 70 schools.
The reason for the 100% sales closure rate was simple; customer save money and the installation works for both large and small customers.
Studies show that using recycled water will, at a minimum, save a customer 50% on water costs.
Of equal importance is when a customer cannot afford the installation, CB will bear the cost for the connection by allowing the company to pay off the installation costs through the savings on their water bill.
Finally, recycled water is a more reliable source than fresh water, so in times of drought, recycled water is more readily available.
Perez and Tat sold the customers and they were ready for installation as soon as possible.
But then CB President James Roybal and Directors Leticia Vasquez and Bob Apodaca unceremoniously fired Perez; a firing that has cost the agency over $250,000 to defend and was just recently settled for an undisclosed amount.
Tat left months later due to personal reasons that CB sources said was related to the stress he was put under by Roybal, Vasquez and Apodaca.
But what is most shocking, and a situation that could raise the ire of state lawmakers, is that customers who were ready to connect are now languishing in wait since the Perez firing and Tat’s departure.
An indignant CB Director Arturo “Art” Chacon told HMG-CN, “(CB Director) Phil (Hawkins) and I have approached CB General Manager Kevin Hunt several times talking about recycled water and getting out there and approaching these customers and signing them up. But since Perez and Tat have left, nothing has been done.”
Now, apparently hearing the message from Directors Chacon and Hawkins, months later Hunt is finally acting on the lucrative customer base, but Hunt is taking a completely different path than that of his predecessor Perez.
And, at least on the surface, it looks as if the Calderon-type awarding of long-term contracts is returning to CB.
At the last CB Board meeting, the board was presented with three options to increase recycled water sales.
Option one was to hire an individual much like Tat at an annual cost of $180,000, with $120,000 in salary and $60,000 in benefits.
CB currently has an employee who replaced Tat, but Hunt is looking to hire additional personnel.
Option two was to hire a consultant at $175,000 per year to work for 1,000 hours plus administrative and management fees.
Option three was to hire a consultant, and at the same time train an entry-level staffer, which would cost $225,000 per year.
Hunt is advocating option three, hiring of two additional people at substantial additional costs, to do the job that Tat and Perez did on their own.
The consultant would earn $150,000 per year and the employee $50,000 plus $25,000 in benefits per year.
And looking eerily similar to the Calderon contracts given out by former disgraced CB GM Art Aguilar, the consultant would be under contract for five years, taking those five years to train the entry-level staffer, “reducing consultant hours as needed.”
And sources are telling HMG-CN that Hunt already has a person chosen for the consultant position.
“Phil and I are not going along with option three,” Chacon said, “we’re in tough times financially, we don’t need to create more positions, let’s use the staff we have now to sell our recycled water system, we have customers waiting to be sold, and systems waiting to be installed, there is money on the ground out there.”
Even if they chose option three, the consultant would run into roadblocks in attempting to complete some of the projects.
High-level CB sources have told HMG-CN that large recycled water projects are being blocked by CB Directors purely for political reasons.
The source told HMG-CN that companies who donated money to losing CB candidates in past elections are getting penalized by the Directors that won their election.
The Directors are using their voting clout on the CB Board to block these large revenue-generating projects for CB.
It is a shame to say the least,” said CB Director Phil Hawkins. “Director Chacon and I are pushing for the closure of these projects, we have been doing that for months because they will bring in much needed revenue to CB. But they are being held up for political and personal reasons, and that’s just wrong. But Art and I can do nothing about it, we are only two votes.”
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